We chose to fly into SNA (John Wayne Int'l Airport) because the flights from Kansas City were less complicated than into LAX, and because it's a smaller airport. We pre-booked Karmel Shuttle, and we called when we collected our luggage and they were there within 10 minutes. We were the only passengers, so went straight to Crowne Plaza in San Pedro. The shuttle cost was $57 for the two of us (+ tip). We booked through Crowne Plaza directly, as we specifically wanted that hotel (rather than Doubletree) because of its location near the port, so we paid $144 for CP. We figured we saved some $ on taxi fares, as we walked where we needed to go in San Pedro and also walked to the pier for embarkation. We found the Crowne Plaza very comfortable and the location was very convenient for us. We checked out of the hotel around 10 am and walked to the pier - it was a 15-20 minute walk with our luggage (we pack lightly - if you have more than one bag to handle or if you have any ambulatory problems, it would be very difficult). We went through check-in (which was a breeze), then had about an hour wait in a large waiting area until they allowed boarding on the ship, at which time we went through security (which was kind of a madhouse)and walked onto the ship and to our stateroom (A216) to drop off carry-on bags. Our stateroom was almost all the way forward and an inside stateroom-we like the layout of Princess staterooms, and felt we had plenty of room (we had a miniscule cabin on the Norwegian Majesty last year - this felt like a suite compared to it!). We try to pack light, so didn't need a lot of storage space for bags, clothing or toiletries. Our room steward was Michael, he was wonderful - very efficient and unobtrusive, always called us by name, we always enjoyed visiting with him and felt he did an excellent job. We had Anytime Dining, and enjoyed all of our tablemates. We didn't always choose to eat in the dining room - some days we were just too lazy to get dressed up for dinner. We tried both specialty restaurants and thoroughly enjoyed them both - WAY too much food, but we both found things we really liked, and the service was wonderful. Recommendations: Crown Grill - the appetizer lobster tails, the tiger shrimp (with chili-garlic sauce) and the berry-apple cobbler and the molten Dutch chocolate cake; Sabatini's - the ricotta-potato ravioli, margherita pizza and lobster, and the white chocolate mousse w/limoncello - oh my! We only used room service for hot tea, but it always arrived very promptlyand they brought plenty, and the water was hot. What more can you ask? The International Cafe was a great alternative, and their sandwiches werealways yummy and they had the very best cookies! Their dessert case madeyou want one of everything! I especially enjoyed the coffee bar - for thehot tea. You could use the coffee card and get unlimited plain coffee or hot tea, or get (I think) 16 specialty coffees with the card. I liked getting the hot tea in a ceramic pot and finding a quiet spot to read and sip tea (you could also get it in a paper cup to go). We found the food in the buffet to be good overall - yes, there were some things that weren't great, but there was always something very good to be had. Our complaint about the buffet would be the traffic flow (the set-up of the serving areas is not well organized and doesn't flow smoothly), especially when you add a wheelchair or scooter in the mix. The staff were really wonderful about helping people with mobility problems, either carrying trays for them or going through the buffet for them. The median age was probably 65 +/-, lots of retirees – there were someyoung people on the cruise, a few families but mostly middle age and older.We are 49 and 51 and were definitely in the younger crowd, but we didexpect as much and it was not a problem. I’d say a lot of the activitieswere geared toward an older crowd – lots of trivia games, ceramics/crafts,a lecture series on Atlantic passenger liners (which was wonderful!),several classic movies on the ship’s TV and MUTS during the day. There werealso the lei-making, hula and ukulele classes, but we participated in verylittle of the organized activities. There were computer and digitalphotography classes available (I believe the fee was $25 for a 1-hourclass). I took a couple of the computer classes with Ryan, who was veryknowledgeable and helpful. My husband took a couple of digital photographyclasses, and said he learned quite a bit. Mostly for us, vacation is aboutvegging – laying around and reading books, catching an occasional movie,napping, laying by the pool (weather permitting) and eating too much – so Ican’t comment on most of the organized activities, except to say thatpeople seemed to enjoy them and participate quite a bit. The weather was cool and windy for several of the days at sea – in fact,there were only a couple of days that were comfortable to be in a loungerwearing a swimsuit. It was difficult to find a chair in the covered poolarea, and chair hogs were plentiful at all the pool areas (well, actually, all public areas, especially the piazza area). One thing we thought was odd was that the gym didn’t open until 7am. The first 2-3 days it was impossible to get near a treadmill or exercise bike without a long wait, but after the first few days it tapered off, and by the end of the trip you had your pick of equipment. We chose to take the stairs as much as possible, and actually only used the elevator maybe 3 times in two weeks. It was our way to balance our overeating! Those stairs get pretty difficult after 2-3 flights when going from 5th floor to the 12th! A hint: the stairs were never crowded, and I didn’t gain any weight even though I ate what I wanted. We used the self-service laundry several times, and the first part of the cruise, it was pretty empty. However, as we got into the ports and especially during week 2, it was hopping. And beware the laundry ladies – I teased my husband about getting into a knockdown-drag out tussle with the ladies in the laundry room….don’t expect to find an empty washer or dryer on your first try, and do expect to wait for an empty machine and wait until it’s done – my husband recommends a couple of beers and a book! We booked all our tours independently, as we just don’t enjoy large-group tours and the ship’s tours really are expensive (but they’re handy if you don’t want to do the planning yourself). We like going on our own and have had good experiences.
HILO, HAWAII: We booked the day with Marylou's Big Island Tours - she takesa total of four guests, and will tailor the tour to what you want to see.She was wonderful and I highly recommend Marylou - she even takes picturesthroughout the day and e-mails them to you after the tour. We started withVolcano National Park (it is cold, take a jacket), including Halema' uma' ucrater, steam vents, cooled lava fields and lava tubes; stopped at anorchid farm, which was really fascinating; the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm(sample everything!) - try the ice cream; then Akaka Falls; Hilo; RainbowFalls; and "four-mile" black sand beach (with two sea turtles "sunning" onthe beach). We saw quite a few whales around as we left port.
OAHU: We rented a car for the day and planned to go to the Arizona Memorial, then head north with no particular destination. We understood the rental car shuttle to be available as we disembarked, however it wasn’t. After several phone calls, we found we had to call & request a shuttle, and that it would be a 20+ minute wait. We chose to hire a taxi to take us to the rental car site (the cost was about the same as the shuttle), and we arrived about a minute ahead of the shuttle! Oh well. We got to the Arizona about 8:30 am and got tickets for 11:20. So decided to go see the USS Missouri while we waited. There is no cost for the Arizona, but the Missouri costs around $25 per person. It was worth it – you can take a docent tour or an audio tour (included in the cost), so we took a docent tour and got a bit of the history of the ship and its significance. We wished we had had more time at the Missouri, but didn’t want to miss the Arizona Memorial. The Arizona visitor’s center is under construction, and so you don’t watch the movie and then go directly to the memorial; the movie is in a tent near the ticket booth, and quite a few people missed it entirely. This is unfortunate, as there is a disconnect between the reality of what happened and the actual trip to the memorial – it didn’t have the sense of reverence and respect that we experienced 25 years ago when we visited. It was very crowded & noisy on the memorial, more of a “well, I’ve checked that off my list” than really honoring the men who are entombed there. Hopefully that will be remedied when the visitor’s center construction is finished. After Pearl Harbor, we drove north and stopped at the Dole Plantation,which was touristy but we enjoyed it, then drove up toward the North Shore. Saw a couple of sea turtles bobbing just off the beach, and a few surfers, but no huge waves. Driving on Oahu really wasn’t too bad – probably because we were there on a Saturday and so didn’t get caught in rush-hour traffic in Honolulu.
KAUAI: Be sure to get up early enough to watch the ship come into port –it’s amazing to watch that huge ship maneuver through an “S” curve into a very small harbor! And there are whales all around, as well. We booked a helicopter trip with Island Helicopters – they picked us up at the ship and took us over to the airport where we checked in and prepared for our flight. There were 6 passengers total. The trip was FABULOUS!! Spend the money and just do it – it is the most amazing scenery I have ever seen! The day was sunny and windy (but not terribly so) – the weather probably determines how much you are able to see. A very different view of Kauai,and one you’ll never forget. After the trip they dropped us off back at the ship, then we walked to the small shopping center approx. 10 minutes from the ship, shopped and bit and ate lunch at the burger hut recommended by David Cole (the cruise director) – can’t remember the exact name, but it’s a thatch-roofed tin building right at the shopping center – had the grilled chicken sandwich with a slice of grilled pineapple – ooh la la! It was every bit as good as he claimed! There was a beach along the back of the shopping center that we could have enjoyed if we chose, and it was a lovely day for a bit of sun.
MAUI: We booked a whale watching excursion with Pacific Whale Foundation (we found prices from about $25 to $38 per person) at 11:30, so really didn’t have enough time to do a lot either before or after the tour because of tendering into Lahaina. We had no problem in getting on a tender (left the ship between 8:30 and 9:00 am) – just went into the dining room, got our ticket and went right to the tender boarding area. It was a windy day and the water was a bit rough, some people in the tenders got a “shower” but the crew quickly pulled the sliding doors down to keep water from splashing in again. Once at the dock, we walked over to find the PWF office where we were to check in at 10:45 for our tour, then walked to try to find the Cannery Mall to catch a bus to Ka’anapali Beach later in the day, but couldn’t find the mall. So we looked around Front Street, went and checked in and then sat in the square in front of the dock (with the huge banyan tree) until time to line up to board our whale watching boat. There were quite a few people on our boat, and I was second-guessing my choice (not liking large-group tours), but it turned out to be an excellent and very enjoyable and informative tour. We saw many, many whales, several popping up within the 100’ distance that boats are required to keep from the whales–it was just amazing! It was really fun! The ride back into the harbor was really choppy, as the wind had picked up considerably, but you could go below deck and stay dry if you wished. When we got back there was a huge line of people waiting to tender back to the GP – apparently the wind caused the captain to suspend tender service for several hours, and move the ship to shelter the tender boats from the wind. Anyhow, while waiting we decided to have lunch, and ate at Lahaina Fish Company, along the waterfront on Front Street. Very good food – I had fish & chips (mahi) and my husband had a mahi sandwich & seafood chowder. Later we had to stop at Luppert’s (sp?) for ice cream – coconut fudge macadamia nut was my choice –yum!! We decided that since the line was so long to tender back to the ship, we probably wouldn’t have time to take the bus to Ka’anapali Beach & back and still board the ship before it sailed. So we nixed the beach trip–I wish we had scheduled the whale watching trip earlier in the day, then we’d have had plenty of time to beach bum. Oh well.
We didn’t disembark in Ensenada – just stayed on the ship and enjoyed the afternoon. The trip back to LA was very windy and bumpy for the first day or two, then we finally had calm waters for the last two days into Ensenada. Disembarkation was really very easy. We didn’t choose the express disembarkation, because our flight didn’t leave until 3:20 pm so had a lot of time to kill. We left the ship at about 9:00 am, called Karmel Shuttle and they were there within 5 minutes (we had scheduled a pickup with them before the cruise) – there were two other passengers in the van and I believe the cost for both of us was $58 + tip.
Things we liked: HAWAII!! The ship was lovely, the crew was very friendly and helpful, the International Café, Sabatini’s, sailing from the west coast, fellow passengers were very enjoyable for the most part. Things we didn’t like: I was ready to go home after about 12 days (but that’s just personal preference), the buffet layout & organization (the food was fine). This is a very enjoyable and relaxing vacation for those who take the time to “do their homework” before the trip and realize that 8 days at sea will get long, it’s NOT a Caribbean cruise (i.e. ship movement and weather), there will be a lot of older people, the pace of the ship is much slower and more easy-going than some of the other cruise lines. You will meet some very interesting and wonderful fellow passengers, spend 14 days on a lovely ship with a crew who really work hard and are a pleasure to be around, and get to see some of the most beautiful islands in the world.